The British Empire had struggled to maintain many of its colonies and protectorates in Africa after World War II because of their financial difficulties. Bechuanaland (Modern day Botswana) was under British rule, but had become one of the poorest countries in the Empire and the world. Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) was the crowned prince of this small nation. He had been sent to England to study and prepare to rule this small country on the border of South Africa. All was going well for the plans for the nation and his family, but prior to coming back to his home land, the prince had fallen in love and secretly married Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). Due to Ruth being white and this being the era of the South African introduction of apartheid, this marriage caused difficulties that had implications for his family, his nation and the British commonwealth. The couple would have to endure opposition to their union that would test the strength of their marital bond. A United Kingdom shares the story of the many challenges of their lives that lead to their eventual popularity within their nation and the development of the prosperous and modern Botswana.
The controversy of the Khama marriage may not be historically familiar to most audiences, but it is a timeless story of love, marriage and how they can overcome all odds and potentially change the world. This is within the wheel-house of director Amma Asante who has taken on similar projects in the past that address racial barriers in history, primarily in her biographical film Belle. With the current project, she has brought together a wealth of talent to deliver a story that will be new to people around the world, but relevant to current world tensions. The challenges that she must overcome are audiences lack of familiarity with the tale and the chronological length of the actual events. Even with these obstacles, Asante manages to convey the chemistry of the young married couple and the passion that Prince Khama has for his country.
These elements relied on the strengths of the lead actors, who proved their skills to convey the passion of the Khamas. Oyelowo and Pike were stunning as the love stuck couple and proved their steel throughout the difficulties that began before they were even married. What drove the story was the strong, but venomous performance of Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl ) who proves his skills as the proper British rival who attempted to break up the young couple. These performances made for an entertaining element to the film, but even with these strong performances, the Guy Hibbert’s (Eye in the Sky) script is what eventually lets the production down. The length of the whole ordeal caused this experience to stretch the viewer’s attention span beyond comfort and proves to be visually laborious. It begins strong, but eventually stylistically turns into a made-for-television BBC docu-drama. A United Kingdom was a fascinating journey into an unfamiliar portion of history, but fails to become groundbreaking cinema.
REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
A United Kingdom does show that love and marriage may not always overcome all opposition, but that does not mean these two should not have gotten together. History would prove that their willingness to ride the tide against this opposition was rewarded, but what should be celebrated is the undying love for one another. No one is promised that opposition will not occur in life, but how can one know that they are in the right or wrong?
Passages on discerning and wisdom: Joshua 1:9, Proverbs 3:5-6, 2 Corinthians 12:9, 1 Peter 5:10